With only two of 41 reported sexual assault cases inspected at the University last year, and under the pressure of federal guidelines, the leading faculty governance body is debating the issue of investigation in sexual assault cases.

In a meeting with the Senate Advisory Committee of University Affairs yesterday, David Potter, chair of the Student Relations Advisory Committee and former chair of SACUA, discussed how policies outlined in a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education to colleges will affect the treatment of sexual assault allegations for undergraduate students at the University. The letter proposes that each sexual assault case be investigated and also calls for the standard of evidence to be lowered in the investigation.

In the “Dear Colleague” letter sent in April, the Department of Education set guidelines for how federally funded universities can be in compliance with the Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in academic institutions. In response, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and other offices drafted an interim policy for the University and plan to implement a long-term procedure this winter.

An interim policy that lowers the standard of evidence from clear and convincing — in which it is highly probable that an assault occurred — to a preponderance of evidence — in which it is more likely than not that an assault occurred — was instated at the University in August.

Only two of the 41 cases of sexual assault reported at the University last year were investigated. This means that on average, only one in 20 reported assaults on campus are investigated, according to Potter. Investigating sexual assaults can be helpful to pick up on trends in assaults, he said.

“If you don’t investigate where the assault took place, you don’t have a record,” Potter said. “You simply have no way of knowing that pattern is there.”

However, Pottersaid he believes survivors have valid personal reasons for not wanting their cases investigated, such as maintaining their privacy or preventing their parents from finding out.

In an interview after the meeting, SACUA Vice Chair Kim Kearfott, a professor in the Medical School and College of Engineering, said it has typically been the survivor’s choice to forego an investigation for sexual assault. But, investigations would be helpful for the student body, she said.

“I think it’s a good thing to look at more data and make sure there aren’t repeat situations going on, say at a particular fraternity or under particular circumstances that our students are at risk for sexual assaults,” Kearfott said.

Potter said lowering the standard of evidence would result in more convictions for students accused of sexual assault.

“The alternative is a clear and convincing standard which is a 51 percent certainty, as opposed to 80 percent certainty,” Potter said.

Potter also spoke about the faculty governing body’s selecting candidates to fill positions on an appeals board. The board would consist of a student appointed by the Michigan Student Assembly, a faculty member appointed by the Senate Assembly and an administrator appointed by University President Mary Sue Coleman. The board would handle appeals from convicted students and sexual assault survivors.

Potter stressed the importance of choosing board members who have experience dealing with similar student grievances since the issues they deal with are particularly sensitive.

“I think it requires that people know what they’re doing,” Potter said. “The worst thing you could have in one of these situations is people who don’t have experience in listening and hearing grievances and dealing with the process.”

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